Finicky Car Keeps Teams Guessing

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle talks with Robbie Reiser, vice president of competition at Roush Fenway Racing, in the garage at Las Vegas. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Funny how things can change so quickly. Just a day after Greg Biffle lamented his team’s struggles in Thursday’s test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he was among the fastest early in Friday’s practice session.

Such is the case with the new rules package, which includes no ride-height restrictions, a different front splitter and a taller rear spoiler. Biffle says the cars are “super, super finicky.’’ He isn’t the only one to see a change or two dramatically alter the car’s handling.

“You can make a change to a spring in the car and affect your ride heights and completely change the way the geometry works in the car,’’ Jimmie Johnson said. “As you look at it initially, you think ‘OK, this will free the car up.’ You send it onto the race track ... you are plowing tight.

“It’s like ‘Wait a second what is going on?’ You have to look three or four layers deeper to understand the way everything works together and they are like ‘Oh I see, it changed ride heights, which changed this, now I see why the car is tight.’ So there are more steps involved with making a decision now. I feel like communication still is key (with the crew chief), but the thought process on the pit box is more important than it’s ever been because a simple change affects more things now.”

Kevin Harvick noted in Thursday’s test how he struggled and it wasn’t until the third set of changes that he was fast. Harvick said it was beneficial to his new team to struggle just a few days after its dominating Phoenix win.

“Running really well right out of the box probably wouldn’t have been the best thing in the world just for the fact that it’s good for those guys to know that sometimes you’ve got to keep working at it,’‘ Harvick said. “It’s good for all of us to have to work at it and communicate and do things that you are going to have to do throughout the year to overcome things.’’

As teams better understand how the new rules package affects the car, they changes likely won’t be as dramatic. Still, it can happen. Biffle can attest to that.

“I know one thing, two years ago I was at Michigan and I was horrible - like couldn’t make a lap horrible - and we looked at Matt (Kenseth’s) setup and he had a little bit different rear spring combination,’’ Biffle said. “We said, ‘OK, tomorrow we’re gonna start with that,’ and we were the fastest car both practices on Saturday and won the race with one spring change.’’

Drivers say they’ll better understand what these cars can do the next few weeks with races at Bristol (concrete track) and Auto Club Speedway (2-mile oval) next.

“I feel like when you get back from California you kind of have a pretty good idea where you stack up compared to your competition cause you’ve been on a superspeedway, you’ve been on a flat mile, and you’ve been at an intermediate like this,’’ Kenseth said. 

“The rules package is a fair amount different than it was last year.  Obviously that’s going to evolve. I think things change a lot in a year. But, I think certainly after the next few weeks you kind of get an idea of where you are, where your strong suits are and where you need to improve.” 

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